Growing up, I was an awkward kid. I was shy but very loud-mouthed. I wanted to be liked but I never conformed. I was nerdy and loved my own company but often wished for friends. My story began when we moved from Nigeria to Ghana at 10 years old. I remember very little of my life in Nigeria so for me, my life feels as though it began when I was 10 years old. And being a 10-year-old shy girl in a new country wasn’t easy.
I had an accent, I didn’t speak the local language, I was brash in my delivery of everything and I didn’t have a dad. Oh, let’s not forget that I was the Jehovah’s Witness who would not say the pledge or national anthem during assembly. So, yeah, the chips were all the way stacked against me. This wasn’t just a subjective feeling. My classmates frequently reminded me how different I was from them and was teased constantly about any one of the many things about myself that made me an outsider.
As far as everyone could tell, I didn’t mind being an outsider. I always had a retort for anyone who had anything to say about me to my face. I wasn’t going to be walked all over. No way! So, kids learned real quickly that while they didn’t have to accept me, they certainly couldn’t talk shit about me to my face. That was my protective mechanism. And that my friends, is how I got through Junior Secondary School, Senior Secondary School and University virtually friendless.
I was an avid reader (mostly of historical romances) so I always had my head in a tattered second-hand Harlequin novel that I bought with money I stole from my mom. This was an escape for me. When reading, I forgot the fact that no one wanted me on their team. I forgot that I have to eat lunch alone again that day. Writing this now, I realize not for the first time how hurt-filled my childhood was.
I think what made it worse was the fact that I was always the youngest in my class. I was in Senior Secondary School (high school) before my 13th birthday and in University before my 16th. If you know anything about African culture (West African to be precise), age is somewhat the biggest determinant when it came to where you place in the social hierarchy. People a mere 3 years older than you would insist you called them “aunty”, “brother”, “sister” or some such derivative. So, yeah, being at least 3 years younger than anyone in my class was the very worst!
So, that long story leads me to the purpose of this post. That painful feeling of isolation lasted well into my adult years. Just knowing without being told that I couldn’t sit with the “cool kids.” That pain amongst others led to finally seek a therapist! Cognitive Behavior Therapy aka talk therapy saved my life in so many ways chief amongst which was teaching me self-love. Because here’s thing with that feeling of seclusion, I learned in therapy that most of it was/is borne out of my own deep-seated feelings of inadequacies. Therapy taught me to put a name to those feelings, helped me explore the origins and most importantly, taught me how to navigate those feelings.
That was when things changed for me mentally. About 6 months into therapy, I said, wait, if you want company, why don’t you host a gathering at your apartment. If you want to go wine tasting, why don’t you get a group together and make it happen. If you’re craving great friendships, why don’t you endeavor to be a great friend. And as if by magic (except it was just hard work and self-love), I began to feel welcome and cherished by my small group of friends who I knew without doubt love and cherish me as I do them.
While I’m still the loud-mouthed, sometimes obnoxious, always opinionated girl I’ve always been, I’ve been tempered by time and maturity, tact, love for others and above all, love and acceptance of self.
I still have my moments of insecurity and feelings of being left out but I’m able to communicate those feelings openly and with vulnerability. Usually, that openness is met with reassurances of an oversight, a consideration of my schedule or quite frankly that I don’t have to be invited to everything. Which is only fair because I’m still a consummate introvert who turn down most invitations.